For many conservatives, Kentucky Senator Rand Paul is a unique specimen. A literal scion of one of the most controversial Republican political figures in recent memory, Paul has managed to form a cordial relationship with mainstream conservatives quite a bit less problematic than the active hostility courted by his doggedly contrarian father, and in the process, has become one of the more influential Tea Party figures in Washington. His name is already floated as a potential future Presidential prospect, so much so that Paul has had to address the question at campaign events:
And despite (or perhaps because of) Paul's evasiveness on the question of running, open speculation reigns that the elder Paul may be playing nice with the GOP establishment in order to pave the way for precisely that prospect.
That speculation is not going to be tamped down anytime soon. In fact, it may be that even the presumptive GOP Presidential nominee, Mitt Romney, sees a Presidential run in the younger Paul's cards, if this report from National Review Online is any guide:
Sources close to Senator Rand Paul tell National Review Online that Paul and Mitt Romney had a private meeting on Wednesday. Details of the topics discussed are hazy, but Paul — the son of Texas congressman (and presidential candidate) Ron Paul — reportedly found the meeting productive.
The one-on-one conversation in the nation’s capital lasted 30 minutes. Sources say the tone was cordial but it wasn’t meant to be an exchange of pleasantries. The Kentucky Republican focused his questions on policy.[...]
For now, there’s no word from Paul World beyond that; no word on whether Romney sought an endorsement or brokered a deal regarding the Tampa convention. But it’s clear Romney is intent on wooing Senator Paul, who has been touted by his father’s aides as a potential presidential candidate down the road.
If anything suggests that Senator Paul is coming into his own as a genuine GOP power player, this story does. Romney, who has ostentatiously made a point of not running as an explicitly Tea Party-linked candidate, has thus far only shown this level of deference to people who he suspects he will need down the line.
And why would Romney need Paul? ABC News breaks it down:
Tea Party members have routinely expressed their reluctance to vote for Romney. In exit polls from the Republican primary, people who said they supported the Tea Party remained split among him, Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich. Romney performed significantly better with Republican voters who said they weren't strong backers of the Tea Party.
An ABC News/Washington Post poll from April reported that 41 percent of Americans said they supported the Tea Party.[...]
Jackie Bodnar, a spokeswoman for the Tea Party group Freedom Works, described what she called a "reverse coattails" strategy that she hopes will work in November: Tea Partiers enthusiastically voting for local candidates in November, and, while they're in the polling booth, pulling the lever for Romney as well.
"I'm definitely happy that he's talking with limited government conservatives like Rand Paul," Bodnar said. "It's a victory in and of itself that the candidates are speaking the Tea Party language."
Niether the Romney campaign nor Paul's office has released any details of the Wednesday meeting, and that's probably best for Romney. Democrats have routinely tried to tie him to the Republican Party's far right, especially to those who refuse to believe that President Obama was born in the United States.
This is quite an impressive case that Romney needs Paul - especially given the remaining fear that the elder Paul's delegates might try to stage a coup at the Republican National Convention. An endorsement from one of the Paul family would effectively put the kibosh on that strategy, as it would send a message that the very people who are supposed to benefit from the coup don't want it to take place. It would also cement Senator Paul's credentials with establishment conservatives, who have made no secret of their belief that Paul supporters lack party loyalty.
So would a Paul endorsement help Romney keep his base in line? It's too early to say, especially since we don't know what that endorsement might cost. Could a "Vice President Rand Paul" be in the cards?